Tell me again the difference between government and organized crime?

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

David Waldock posted on Twitter, “Dear government: as you keep telling us, if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear.” Such is the state of our society today that governments seek ever greater intrusions on our privacy while governments are outraged because WikiLeaks keeps revealing their secrets.

Translation: Governments can keep secrets. You may not.

Of course, all of this arises—though we are not to notice—because of our governments’ policies around the world. Lyndon Johnson and Robert F. Kennedy wanted a key constituency to vote for Democrats, so they promised to sponsor Israel. A month later, Kennedy was shot and it has gotten worse ever since.

We’re not supposed to notice Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, the drone attacks on innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the night raids—really home invasions—on Afghan homes, the million-plus civilians killed in Iraq, the widening war on Islam, the support for anti-democratic and pro-oligarchy coups, or any of the other dastardly deeds our governments have committed in our name.

We’re not supposed to notice that while all this criminal activity goes on overseas, we’re also rewarding criminals at home—bailing them out to ever greater profits—while the unemployed and the poor are left to twist in the wind.

And somehow these governments continue to be seen as legitimate, as morally superior to organized criminal gangs.

Human Potential Movement to Post-Modernism to Hypocrisy

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

I am quoting at length here from Pauline Marie Rosenau’s book Post-modernism and the Social Sciences: Insights, Inroads, and Intrusions (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 1992):

The post-modern individual is relaxed and flexible, oriented toward feelings and emotions, interiorization, and holding a “be-yourself” attitude. S/he is an active human being constituting his/her own social reality, pursuing a personal quest for meaning but making no truth claims for what results. S/he looks to fantasy, humor, the culture of desire, and immediate gratification. Preferring the temporary over the permanent, s/he is contented with a “live and let live” (in the present) attitude. More comfortable with the spontaneous than the planned, the post-modern individual is also fascinated with tradition, the antiquated (the past in general), the exotic, the sacred, the unusual, the place of the local rather than the general or the universal. Post-modern individuals are concerned with their own lives, their particular personal satisfaction, and self-promotion. Less concerned with old loyalties and modern affiliations such as marriage, family, church and nation, they are more oriented toward their own needs.

The post-modern individual, shying away from collective affiliation and communal responsibility in modern terms, considers them a hindrance to personal development and a threat to privacy (Bauman 1987). Modern community is said to be oppressive; it demands intimacy, giving, self-sacrifice, and mutual service. Inasmuch as it is “reasonable,” it also is “domineering and humiliating.” Post-modern community is possible, but it must be based in “community without unity” (Corlett 1989:6-7). Only in this condition can it be considered acceptable to the post-modern individual.

The post-modern individual is characterized by an absence of strong singular identity. This step-child of Freud, a subject characterized by fragmentation, lacks much self-awareness and makes no claim of self-consciousness. S/he is a floating individual with no distinct reference points or parameters (Lipovetsky 1983: 60, 80, 125). What the modern subject characterized as indifference, the post-modern individual calls tolerance. The modern subject may be politically conscious, but the post-modern individual is self-conscious. The post-modern individual favors dispersion over concentration, the unrehearsed rather than the carefully organized. S/he emphasizes choice, free expression, individual participation, private autonomy, personal liberation, without any need of universalistic claims or ideological consistency. The post-modern individual seeks freedom (from coercion by others) and liberation (from self-denial). S/he relinquishes all normative assumptions, any possibility that one value or moral norm can ever be demonstrated to be better than any other. The post-modern individual is wary of general rules, comprehensive norms, hegemonic systems of thought.

Post-modern individuals are comfortable with personalized politics. These views are characteristically free of totalizing global projects such as those of socialism. They are skeptical about the intentions and motivations of committed activists. Despite a general political disaffection, the post-modern individual may from time to time affirm struggles against the state and the system. S/he is open to participation and recruitment in diverse and contradictory causes and social movements with fleeting existences. This is not surprising because the post-modern individual is comfortable with multiple realities, without requiring coherence (Lipovetsky 1983). And this makes sense given the post-modern individual’s fluctuating, ever-changing personal identity. (pp. 53-54)

Set aside, just for a moment, that this sounds like a description of a product of the human potential movement, which arose in the wake of the counterculture movement of the 1960s and 1970s, as participants felt unable to counter the most powerful military in the world and a political system which was more than willing to employ it against them. (And indeed Rosenau suggests in a footnote that “the post-modern individual emerged as a philosophical and intellectual construct in the 1960s,” albeit in France.)

Somewhere around the end of the second paragraph, where she talks about what is acceptable, it is clear that this is no longer a description but a prescription. And it is completely contradicted in the last sentences of third paragraph. I should also point out that she attributes this view to those she calls “skeptical” post-modernists, whom she distinguishes from “affirmative” post-modernists and that she says flatly that she is writing her analysis of post-modernism from a modernist perspective. In addition, post-modernists only introduced their “individual” when social scientists pushed back on their denial of the “subject.”

Rosenau’s analysis of post-modernism is amazing. She claims she writes this book neither to praise nor to condemn post-modernism, but what emerges, at least so far, is a devastating critique. And it would seem we have little choice but to rely on analyses such as this, because post-modernists themselves see no importance or even possibility of communicating clearly what they mean. But most incredibly of all, she reveals—perhaps without intention—how post-modernists who claim to avoid judgment are in fact extremely ideological, as is apparent in these paragraphs.

Post-modernism is hypocrisy. That’s all there is to it.

Initial impressions of Diaspora: an anarchist social network design?

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

NOTE: The information on this page will be updated on EarthWiki.

About the time I first started the current incarnation of this site, Facebook was facing severe criticism for its privacy policies. And that very much affected how I thought about privacy. Also about that time, some folks started working on a new social network, with a fundamentally different model of privacy, that would be open source, and that would allow users to control what information they shared.

Diaspora is here. Sort of.

I’ve got it running and I’m allowing people to sign up without an invitation.

It’s alpha, which means it is still early in the development stages and guaranteed to have bugs. One of those bugs is that profile photographs are broken. Very few people are on it so you’ll have to invite your friends—but you’ve only got five invitations, which is why I’m leaving the door open to sign-ups.

It’s pretty bare bones. At this point, you basically have the capability to post messages and photographs to friends in all or some of what are called “aspects,” which are Diaspora’s way of allowing you to group your contacts so you control whom you are sharing what information with. But they’ve done a very nice job with the web design—it is visually appealing.

The privacy aspects appear serious. Even running a “pod” on my server, I appear to have little administrative control. I could kill the jobs running Diaspora. I can start them. I can try to keep the software up to date. And that’s it. I suppose it is possible to hack the database to search for information, but there are no administrative features to Diaspora. Basically, I’m just another user and unless people tell me what they’re doing on Diaspora, even on my pod, I really have no way of knowing.

That means that I also cannot censor what other users do, short of taking the site down. Facebook has earned ire from its users for censoring breastfeeding photographs and deleting animal rights activists. I don’t even have those options. It looks like the closest thing to an anarchist social media site in web 2.0.

I’m also in the dark about maintenance and software updates. Hopefully someone will answer those questions soon. Because while the documentation is barely adequate to get a Diaspora pod running, it is clear that the development is proceeding apace—even over Thanksgiving.

This is looking good, but challenging Facebook, which long ago established itself as what I call the “town square” of the Internet, is not trivial. The way I’m guessing this happens is that each Facebook privacy outrage will peel away users and Diaspora will increasingly be available as an alternative. Perhaps at some point, a critical mass will be reached, when Facebook goes the way of MySpace, essentially becoming irrelevant. We’ll see.

A vegan Thanksgiving

Diana Wagman just wrote an essay for the Los Angeles Times on her travails as a vegetarian at Thanksgiving. With the exception of her daughter—also a vegetarian—her family is utterly unsympathetic and downright rude about Tofurky, a vegan turkey substitute.

Read more

Obama’s response to midterm “shellacking”: What side would India like its bread butte

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

This Associated Press story is a waste of time—except for one thing: This is a president whose party just got pummeled in midterm elections, in large part because he had lost touch with U.S. voters who are suffering the worst recession since the Great Depression, a recession caused by criminality which his administration has chosen not merely to overlook but to reward.

Now, in that A.P. article, look at the photograph of the Obama’s being greeted by an honor guard in Indonesia. He had arrived there following a three-day trip to India, during which he denied that globalization had cost jobs.

Now, of course, it’s quite a habit for U.S. presidents facing obstruction on the domestic front to suddenly take an interest in foreign affairs.

But does this look to you like the picture of a man who has learned a single solitary thing from the election? Does it make any sense at all to respond to the “shellacking” he admits having received by flying off overseas, booking entire hotels, hobnobbing with world leaders?

If this man runs for reelection in 2012 without making some drastic changes, he’s toast.

It sucks to be right

Originally published at The Benfell Blog. Please leave any comments there.

So, I was right. So were a lot of people. We all warned what would happen if Obama continued to fail to stand up for anything, if he continued to pursue compromise with Republicans who weren’t interested in compromising. We warned what would happen if he left the unemployed in the lurch after having so boldly bailed out the wealthy.

We said it again, and again, and again. And Obama’s White House sneered.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said, “I hear these people saying he’s like George Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. I mean, it’s crazy.”

“Right back at’cha. Right back at’cha,” David Axelrod replied, after Susan Madrak of Crooks and Liars pointed out that “We’re the girl you’ll take under the bleachers but you won’t be seen with in the light of day.”

Speaking of Madrak, here’s one of her posts:

Joe Biden Motivates The Base: ‘Quit Whining’

Susie Madrak – September 28, 2010 10:00 AM

Joe Biden tells the base to “quit whining” and get out there and “look at the alternatives. This president has done an incredible job. He’s kept his promises.”

And last night on Lawrence O’Donnell’s new show, he said: “Those who didn’t get everything they wanted, it’s time to just buck up.”

Just buck up.

I’m not sure how we turned out to be the targets, but it looks like we’re officially on notice. No more complaining about frivolities!

The people still without jobs? Quit yer whining.

The ones on food stamps? You, too.

Your house is being foreclosed on? What a buncha whiners. Shut yer piehole!

Those of you living in your cars? Be grateful you still have cars!

Sleeping on your friend’s couch? Beats a cardboard box, don’t it?

You can’t afford to see a doctor? You’ll be able to do that in 2014. You can’t wait just four more years?

And they actually wonder why the base isn’t motivated.

Let me put it this way. You know how Joe Biden’s grandparents came here from Ireland to find a better life?

I know Americans who are trying to figure out how to move their families back to Ireland.

Oh, and now Obama’s getting in on the act. Hey, be sure to let me know how well that worked, okay, Mr. President?

WASHINGTON – Admonishing his own party, President Barack Obama says it would be “inexcusable” and “irresponsible” for unenthusiastic Democratic voters to sit out the midterm elections, warning that the consequences could be a squandered agenda for years.

“People need to shake off this lethargy. People need to buck up,” Obama told Rolling Stone in an interview to be published Friday.

The president told Democrats that making change happen is hard and “if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.”

Or maybe it means they no longer have a ball. Or a home.

Glenn Greenwald called Obama’s assertion that “If we want the kind of country that respects civil rights and civil liberties, we’d better fight in this election” as possibly “one of the most audaciously hilarious political statements I’ve read in quite some time.”

Obama didn’t even get it when, in a Town Hall meeting that captured national media attention, Velma Hall got up and said, “I voted for a man who was going to change things in a meaningful way for the middle class and I’m waiting sir, I’m waiting. I still don’t feel it yet.”

In a note I attached to an article on August 11, I wrote,

I don’t want to take anything away from attempts to itemize and catalog the lengthy list of broken Obama campaign promises. Really I don’t. I’ve tried (and failed miserably) myself. It’s too long a list, ridiculously long, in fact.

I quoted myself from the day before:

It is as if Democrats expect the invisibility of the unemployed on Wall Street and inside the Beltway to extend inside voters’ living rooms. If that’s hard to imagine, consider that our national policymaking apparatus seems captive to Israeli chauvinists (which is why we threaten Iran with yet another unwinnable war and support Israel even at the expense of endless war, to Cuban emigrés (which is why we sustain a crippling economic embargo against Cuba even after over fifty years of failure), to the military-industrial complex (which insists on spending inconceivable amounts of money on wars we can’t win), to anti-abortion zealots (who have won a prohibition of abortion coverage in the temporary health-insurance pools that are an intermediate step in the implementation of the health care plan and who also want to ban birth control), and to Wall Street. No significant legislation moves through this apparatus unless it is compatible with their interests. And legislation or regulation that advances their interests can take effect even against popular disapproval.

Reacting to the results, John Judis of the New Republic said that Obama deserved to lose. Robert Scheer wrote,

Barack Obama deserved the rebuke he received at the polls for a failed economic policy that consisted of throwing trillions at Wall Street but getting nothing in return. His amen chorus in the media is quick to blame everyone but the president for his sharp reversal of fortunes. But it is not the fault of tea party Republicans that they responded to the rage out there over lost jobs and homes while the president remained indifferent to the many who are suffering.

The bottom line is that even if we vote for Democrats, we get Republicans. Maybe not quite as far to the wacky side as Tea Partiers, but then again, the deficit reduction commission, the so-called “catfood” commission that has been stacked with ideological opponents of Social Security was Obama’s idea that he insisted upon even after Congress rejected it. I’ve been saying that for a while, now.

“Some of us have compromised our compromised compromise,” said New York Democrat Representative Anthony Weiner. “We need the president to stand up for the values our party shares.”

That’s how I opened a blog posting nearly a year ago. I pointed out that the Democrats have pushed further and further to the right and that this had left Progressives without a voice.

And it was pretty pathetic to hear about Democrats trying to rescue this election with a pro-choice appeal after eviscerating access to abortions in the health care package.

But Democrats have done worse than that. Pushing so far to the right, they have acquiesced to a conservative framing that makes “liberal” a dirty word and equates progressivism—I mean the real kind, not Obama’s pretend kind—with “socialism,” as if “socialism” were such a bad word. Republicans trying to distinguish themselves from Democrats have, in turn, pushed even further to the right. So the entire range of acceptable political discourse has shifted.

Which means this country can no longer be sane about any of a number of issues. Because sanity itself is outside the range of acceptable political discourse.

But these are the same politicians who now expected our support.